By Tony Attwood
That is just one of the hundreds of headlines that can be seen in articles in newspapers and magazines across Europe this week as the build-up to the World Cup continues. But such commentaries are rather rarer in England – perhaps because England applied to host the show but got just two votes, one of which was their own.
However the Sunday Times has been involved and it is being reported that personalities critical of Qatar such as Michel Platini, and the senator Nathalie Goulet have consistently been spied on.
Then an investigation published this month by The Sunday Times revealed that journalists, politicians and lawyers have been targeted by hackers hired to protect Qatar’s reputation.
The individuals selected for hacking were targeted for their investigations into, or their critical analyses of the awarding and organization of the World Cup by Qatar. Qatar has denied all allegations of phone and computer hacking which has been described in several sources as one of the biggest hacking conspiracies the world has yet seen.
But throughout the people targeted for the hacks were those who have accused Qatar of financing Islamic terrorism – which from our perspective is interesting. We’ve been critical of selecting Qatar for football reasons – this is quite different.
According to The Sunday Times and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, hacking began in 2019 at the instigation of Qatar, with former British police and intelligence officers, now working in the private sector, being used to find Indian hackers to help with the process. Targets of this round of hacking included Swiss President Ignazio Cassis, Boris Johnson when he was Prime Minister, and Philip Hammond when he was chancellor at the time of the Russian Novichok poisonings.
The story hasn’t been overly reported in many other media outlets, maybe it is because England are bidding again to host international football events and once again contemplating spending £££m of taxpayers’ money on the processes if the bid is won (and quite possibly on the bid itself) just as we (those of us who pay tax to the state on our incomes, on our businesses, on our purchases, on the money, property and goods we inherit when we die, and so on) pay tax which maybe we’d like to have spent on something else.
But across Europe one story dominates and it is corruption, most specifically corruption by Qatar in getting itself the award of the world cup. It is being called “the biggest scandal in the history of sport, between big money, corruption and espionage.
Indeed so huge is the corruption that has been uncovered that even Sepp Blatter who knows a thing or two about it describes it as the biggest corruption in sporting history.
The tale involves a former CIA officer spying on Qatar’s rivals, and the involvement of the FBI as it has been discovered that the officer spied on Qatar’s rivals, and then attempted to influence US policy according to an Associated Press investigation.
And the whole aim of the programme was to undermine reports which suggested that Qatar was a regular funder of terrorists and others involved in what is euphemistically called “wrongdoing”.
At the heart of the affair is a background organisation called Global Risk Advisors, who helped Qatar host the 2022 World Cup by spying on officials of football associations and by among other things, attempting to blackmail football officials into softening their criticism of Qatar. Indeed it was the latter point that has problably resulted in there being little interest in this story that is sweeping Europe. England’s FA and England’s media, uniquely in Europe, don’t criticise Fifa, so anxious are they to get another competition in England, and hide the appaling disaster of the Euro final at Wembley.
Among the allegations presented with evidence is that Qatari officials worked with the CIA to damage the reputation of senior officials in the USA who were perceived as Qatar’s enemies. In short it was a standard long-term policy of attacking and undermining those who came up with any negative thoughts about Qatar.
And the reason behind all this? Qatar is oil-rich and home to a mega-size US military base, but is not on friendly terms with its neighbours Saudi Arabia and the UAE. To counter this Qatar became the main client of Global Risk Advisors and helped in the making of the film “Enemies of the Peace” which denigrated Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman,
Of particular interest at this point is the fact that Global Risk Advisors created a detailed security plan in 2014 for a surveillance system in Qatar that could track mobile phones and allow authorities to listen into individual conversations. From there came the idea of a mobile phone app that could record users’ location and movements.
Of which of course those going to Qatar have been warned, but don’t seem to be too worried about.
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